This is the eighth book in the Jane Austen Mystery Series by Stephanie Barron.
In a newly discovered secret journal, Jane Austen documents her adventures as an amateur sleuth. In the summer of 1809, while still secretly mourning the loss of her beloved Lord Harold Trowbridge, Jane moves with her mother and sister to her family's cottage in Chawton. Upon her arrival at Chawton Cottage Jane is surprised by a lawyer from London who informs her that Lord Harold left her an inheritance and delivers an exotic chest filled with Lord Harold journals and private correspondence. Although moved by the Rogue's trust and happy to have something to remind her of the lost love of her life, Jane understands that in Lord Harold's papers there are many secrets, a lot of people would do anything to read, and unintentionally Lord Harold may have put her in great danger. Her fears are proved true, when someone attempts to rob her brother's bank and a dead body is found on the basement of her cottage. Jane is convinced that both incidents are related to her precious papers, and determined to protect her beloved's legacy and to expose the murderer, she begins to investigate the case.
This series is excellent and this eighth novel is one of the best so far. Stephanie Barron has, once again, created a gripping mystery plot, brilliantly set in Austen's time, with a very convincing Jane as its heroine. The descriptions of Chawton Cottage and the surrounding area are beautiful and the atmosphere of the small village where Jane was to spend the final years of her life is fantastic. As in all the novels of the series, the everyday life of the time is excellent, drawn with beautiful imagery and historical detail. The well developed characters are based on the types of characters created by Austen herself, and thus are very convincing and typical of their time, especially the simpleminded Mrs Austen, who is so much like the adorably annoying Mrs Bennet. Jane with her wit and her brilliant abilities of perception is very convincing as an amateur sleuth and as the series progresses her character evolves and becomes more complex. I actually think that I liked Jane in this novel more than in the entire series, as she is so very real; heartbroken and vulnerable but determined and strong at the same time. The story is narrated by Austen in her journal and the language is very similar to her existing letters, thus very realistic.
In addition, the book includes excellent and very useful footnotes by Stephanie Barron, explaining some references to Austen's life and providing valuable information on the customs of the time.
The novel can stand on its own, but as it makes many references to the previous novels in the series, I think it is best to start from the beginning.
This is the 8th Jane Austen mystery and it is just as good as the first. I would have given this 5 stars because overall it deserves it, but I must confess I did find the story unengaging for about 3/4 of the way through, but it eventually picks up pace and I was really surprised when Jane summed up the whole in a Miss Marple-like fashion at the end. I don't want to discuss too much of the plot because I don't want to spoil the series for anyone. I do think if you can't get the first novel 'Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor', then you might be better starting to read one of the earlier novels before this one if you're new to the series. This series is worthwhile for any Austen or mystery fan or even for those interested in the late Georgian/Regency period as Stephanie Barron is a gifted writer. To think of writing a series of novels with Jane Austen as sleuth seems to me to be an incredibly difficult thing to do, yet she always pulls it off.